Bruce Boynton, Civil Rights Pioneer, Dies at 83

By Hubert Plummer posted 11-24-2020 10:37 PM


I wanted to take a moment to mention the passing of Bruce Boynton, the man who inspired the 1961 “Freedom Rides”.[i]  He died on November 20, 2020.  He was 83.

Mr. Boynton was the son of Amelia Boynton Robinson who was savagely beaten on March 7, 1965, this day is now known as Bloody Sunday.  She helped organize a march to Alabama’s capital city Montgomery.  The march was led by John Lewis, Hosea Williams and Bob Mants.  Rosa Parks was among the marchers.  State and County police stopped the march on the Edmund Pettis Bridge.  Amelia Boynton was beaten unconscious and a picture of her went around the world.[ii]  This was the same incident where John Lewis had his skull fractured.

Bloody Sunday helped solidify public opinion leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, recently gutted by the Supreme Court.

Amelia Boynton continued her work for civil rights and was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Medal in 1990.[iii]

Her son Bruce Boynton was born in 1937.  He was a student at Howard University School of Law in 1958 when he was arrested for trespass.  He had been in a Richmond, Virginia bus station when he attempted to purchase food in the white section of the terminal.  He was tried and convicted of a misdemeanor which he appealed and lost until the case made it to the US Supreme Court.

The landmark case of Boynton v Virginia held that racial segregation was illegal in public transportation because it violated the Interstate Commerce Act.  Thurgood Marshall represented Boynton.  The decision was 7-2.  The decision avoided making any constitutional ruling.[iv] [v]

The case led to the “Freedom Rides”, a movement where African Americans and whites rode public transportation together to challenge local laws or customs that discriminated based on race.[vi]  Needless to say, there were violent reactions to the Freedom Rides.  Attorney General Robert F Kennedy then forced the Interstate Commerce Commission to enforce the Boynton decision and other similar decisions, effectively ending Jim Crow laws in transportation.[vii]

Mr. Boynton spent the rest of his life as a civil rights attorney.  He may not have been as well-known as many civil rights leaders but his contribution was immensely important.








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